Republican senators say keeping Guantánamo open is the only way to get justice. We know otherwise.
June 21, 2021
Eight Republican senators representing seven states recently sent a letter to President Biden imploring the president to keep Guantánamo Bay open, claiming that a bipartisan majority of members of Congress and most Americans support this view. They assert that this would ensure “justice.”
As a family member of a 9/11 victim who stands with hundreds of others facing the same trauma, I can say that’s not true. Keeping Guantánamo Bay open ensures that we never get justice, because the military commissions handling these cases are not based on a set system of legal precedents and cannot work.
September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, of which I’m a member, has been seeking justice for almost 20 years. Granted NGO status by the Pentagon, our members have been some of the rare few allowed to attend the ongoing, unending hearings of the five men charged with plotting the attacks of September 11, 2001, being held thousands of miles away on a remote US military base on the island of Cuba, known as the “legal equivalent of outer space.” We have researched, studied, and reported on what we experienced. We know what we want.
The eight senators claim to know what “most Americans” think and what 9/11 families want. We, the members of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, would like to know the source of that claim. We have repeatedly called for the closure of Guantánamo. We understand that Guantánamo has only prolonged America’s endless wars and intensified anti-American sentiment around the world, all while stripping the pockets of loyal Americans. Guantánamo costs US taxpayers a whopping $13 million per year per prisoner. Contrast this with the Supermax prison in Colorado, where some of the “worst of the worst,” such as Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers; Terry Nichols, who was convicted of being Timothy McVeigh’s accomplice in the Oklahoma City bombing; and Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, a Mexican drug lord and former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, are incarcerated, at a cost of $75,000 each per year.
The Republican senators warn the president of the “risks” in housing Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the 39 other men near residents of their states. But what risks? There have been no terrorist attacks on Guantánamo or in areas with Supermax prisons in the lifetimes of these facilities. Not to mention that many of these men are middle-aged to elderly, with long lists of health problems, both physical and mental, due to the torture they have endured at our hands. In 2019, seeing that the military had no geriatric or palliative care physicians, the Pentagon sought $88.5 million to build a small prison with communal hospice care capacity. The effort to keep Americans afraid of nonexistent “risks” is nothing but political grandstanding, a publicity effort to display these senators as saviors worth reelection.
In another hyperbolic attempt to scare Americans, the senators tried to claim that those released to other countries from Guantánamo have gone on to reengage in terrorist activities. That’s, once again, just not the case. More than 85 percent of 201 detainees transferred out of Guantánamo by the Obama administration are not suspected of subsequently engaging in any terrorist activity after they return. In September 2017, the director of national intelligence told Congress that 5.6 percent of detainees Obama transferred were confirmed as “re-engaging” in terrorism, compared with 21.2 percent of Bush’s transfers. Despite what the senators may claim, the 40 men left to rot in Guantánamo Bay with no due process do not present a high risk. In fact, six have been cleared to leave, some more than a decade ago; yet they are still being held. Three more were similarly cleared for release just weeks ago, and yet no one from the Biden administration can answer if or when that will actually happen.
We, who have suffered the most in losing our loved ones, want nothing more than justice. But the inept, foot-dragging military commissions are clearly not a tenable solution. If the senators really wanted to give the families of 9/11 victims justice, they would call for the immediate closure of Guantánamo Bay and the release of the men who have been cleared. Those charged should be tried in the mainland Article III federal courts of our country, which have secured almost 700 terrorism convictions since 9/11.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that President Biden is considering appointing an envoy to close Guantánamo. Just a day later, NBC News confirmed that the Biden administration had quietly begun efforts to close the detention center before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This is the closest our families have been to justice in years, and all I ask is that President Biden should throw out the eight Republican senators’ letter and stay resolved to keep his promise to finally close Guantánamo Bay to help restore the United States’ once-respected name.